movie review: in the picture
Jack the Giant Slayer **1/2
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, and Ewan McGregor
Director: Bryan Singer
Tagline: Prepare for a giant adventure
Riding on the fantasy adventure wave driven by the current trend of live action fairytale retellings, Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer offers a spruced up mash-up of the Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk stories.
Drenched in CGI and slathered with special effects, the film follows the story of Jack (Nicholas Hoult), an orphaned farmhand who comes in possession of some magic beans. A series of events results in one of those beans taking root, lifting Jack's house and its unlikely occupant, the headstrong Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), up into the sky, thrusting them into the realm of grotesque giants, led by the two-headed Fallon (Bill Nighy and John Kassir). To save his daughter and kingdom, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) puts together a royal search party, which includes the heroic knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the King's duplicitous advisor and Isabelle's fiancé (albeit against her choice) Roderick (Stanley Tucci), Roderick's attendant Wicke (Ewan Bremner), and of course Jack. They must go up the beanstalk, battle the giants, rescue Isabelle, and defend the Kingdom of Cloister, while the treacherous Roderick tries to enslave the giants, attack the kingdom, and usurp power.
Its star-studded cast is the film's biggest asset. He may not necessarily seem like the most ideal choice for the part, but the talented Nicholas Hoult makes a likeable (although perhaps a little too dreamy eyed) hero. The ever dependable Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci give solid performances. And it helps that the giants are given their own internal dynamics instead of presenting them as homogenous cardboard cutouts. But ever so often, the focus seems to be excessively on the action and special effects instead of on the characters. Isabelle's character, for instance, is too stereotypical and isn't presented in the most compelling way, and her romance with Jack is more yawn-inducing than exciting.
The adequate script and satisfying pace help to build some tension even though we pretty much know where the story is heading. It is the film's predictability, though, that drags it down and keeps it from being a fully engrossing experience. With stylistic elements that seem indebted to films like The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings, the movie owes many of its features to the classics that preceded it, and doesn't seem at all concerned with even attempting to give the semblance of putting an original spin on its borrowed styles. Combine that with hackneyed plot points, unimaginative relationships, and strict adherence to the genre's predefined pattern, and you're left with a film that feels generic and trite.
Overall, Jack the Giant Slayer is neither a wreck, nor a masterpiece. It is a functional adaptation of an old tale with surfeit action - the proceedings are too violent for very young viewers, and many of the intense and gruesome scenes might scare children - that sticks to the fantasy adventure template and takes us to a familiar territory that we've visited many times before. At no point during its 114 minute runtime does it become clear why someone thought it was a good idea to dole out a whooping $195 million on this project. Ultimately Jack the Giant Slayer is fun but predictable and weighed down by its clichés and lack of originality. It definitely isn't essential viewing, but it can be sporadically entertaining, especially if you go in with low expectations.
– Sameen Amer
Instep, The News on Sunday - 28th April, 2013